How to learn Chinese?

How to learn Chinese? Learning a foreign language is never easy and you always have to confront yourself to get out of your comfort zone. Considered as the Best University to learn Chinese mandarin, I enrolled at BLCU (Beijing Language and Culture University) for one year intensive Chinese course and recognized a certain pattern. Here are 9 strategies you can follow:

Don’t ignore the tones and listen as often as possible

The first step is to listen to Chinese and only do that for the first month. In any textbook, the first lessons focus mainly on the 4 tones. The more you listen to the different 4 tones, the better (at the same time, you don’t really have the choice).

One of the biggest mistakes beginners make is to ignore the 4 tones and not give them the attention they deserve. Learning a language requires you to understand others and to be understood. In this way, tones are probably one of the most important parts of the Chinese language.

To give you an example, I used to order milk tea at the canteen by saying chá 茶 but instead, they gave me a plate of sausage (肠 = cháng). It didn’t happen once but many many times until I finally mastered the tones, which took a couple of weeks.

How to learn Chinese speaking: As you listen, slowly practice shadowing

Your shadow will follow you whenever you’re going. Have you seen those kids getting scared of their own shadows? If you haven’t, go on YouTube right now and check it out!

As you take an audiobook, shadowing means repeating exactly what you hear by copying the tones, the intonation and the pronunciation. You want to “shadow” the speaker, follow her as your own shadow will follow you.

This exercise is extremely powerful. It not only helps you practice your listening skills but also trains your attention and pronunciation.

Passive listening or active listening

If you want to know how to learn Chinese faster don’t only listen passively to audiobooks. For example you might be tempted to listen to Chinese while preparing food; but is it really effective? I was never a big fan of passive listening. Yet some people think that they will get better by passively listening to the language.

Why not put our full attention to the task? Listening should be a conscious learning. We set goals and measure the outcomes. Textbooks and audio books are your best friends for this. The best way is to listen and check if you understood or not. Listening and comprehension exercises help us practice active listening. Passive listening is just a hobby that won’t drive you anywhere.

Learning Chinese fast: self-study or going to class?

I have many friends who decided to learn Chinese but they quickly ended up giving up. Once their initial enthusiasm faded away, they abandoned their project. They simply lacked discipline to carry on.

Going to a Chinese class helps you keep momentum and build discipline. Over time, you would’ve built a habit and learning Chinese will be a lot easier.

If you go to class, let’s say for 6 months or one year, you will grasp the basics of the language like the 4 tones, the main building blocks to learn the Chinese Characters.


How to learn Chinese


If you don’t have at least one year don’t start Chinese

That’s a bold claim and institutions teaching you Chinese will never say that, but it’s true. I met a lot of foreigners, usually Westerners who hoped to master Chinese in a couple of months. This might be possible for Koreans and Japanese using the same character system.

But the problem lies in our alphabet; it’s so different from the Chinese Characters. Learning the Chinese characters takes a lot of time. It is even recommended to have at least 2 years to master the 3000 Chinese characters required to understand 99% of the written language.

Many students and professionals invested so much (the Chinese class fees, airplane tickets, accommodation, daily necessities…) but received zero return of investment. Had I known this earlier, I wouldn’t have started learning Chinese. If you think you will master Chinese in 3 months, think twice about it. It also depends on your goals but I will be more than happy if you proved me wrong.

How to learn Chinese: Should you stick to the 20/80 rule?

We talk a lot about the 20/80 principle in language learning. Basically, 20% of the cause gives you 80% of the results. It claims that learning 20% of the most common vocabulary will help you master 80% of any conversational situation. Maybe it’s true in other languages; but for Chinese it is not. It is true that learning the most common characters will help you master the others. But if our goal is to be really fluent and understand meaning conversations, we will need a lot of words.


chinese food


As you get a little bit advanced, read aloud the Chinese characters

Reading a text aloud not only helps getting familiar with the Chinese characters you just learned, it also pushes you to memorize how they sound. By reading a text aloud, you evaluate yourself if you understood the text or not. Shadow the native speaker if an audio format is available.

Use it or lose it: use Chinese as much as you can

You can set yourself an environment that will expose you to the language as often as possible. As you want to know how to learn Chinese mandarin, read as much as you can: change your settings in Chinese, use your social networks in Chinese, and why not get a partner who’s native? It’s really up to you to be proactive and increase your chance of getting better. This doesn’t only apply to Chinese but to life in general.

And finally, remember why you wanted to learn Chinese

Learning Chinese is a long-term project that will require dedication and perseverance. In the middle of the journey, you might be tempted to give up because it doesn’t lead anywhere. It’s in this kind of situation that you need to be clear about why you wanted to start in the first place.

Did you decide to learn Chinese because it is one of the most widely international spoken languages? Was it because you wanted to land a job of your dreams? Did you start because you fell in love with the culture? Or did you just want to create bonds and connect with people? No matter the reason, you might consider having a meeting with yourself and really ponder why you started the project and then keep going. Only after that could you set it as a goal.

Write those reasons down either on a paper or Word software. Check it often. Definiteness of purpose and persistence make all the difference in our personal success. When you decide exactly what you want, organize yourself and be as productive as you can. Learning Chinese can train you to win in life so I wish you the best! Sitraka


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